Internalised Fatphobia: The Social Stigma that Hides in Plain Sight

Illustration by Jaimee Andrews

The contradictory nature of fatphobia is embedded within us all.

It is what makes the ignorant ones among us tell fat people they’re unhealthy and need to exercise, then mock and call them liars when they’re spotted sporting gym gear. It is what drives well-meaning Instagram users to like posts of skinny influencers hunched over to reveal their one belly roll, but not give the same love to fat content creators conveying the same message of body confidence. It is usually hidden behind the façade of ‘harmless jokes’, or even in the designs of chairs and clothing.

Fatphobia has its roots so deep in our psyche sadly even the best of us fall prey to it. So is the danger of unconscious bias, Wikipedia labels this as “automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, universal and uniquely able to influence our behaviour”. People (most of the time) never intend to cause harm, but it’s with microaggressions and normalisation of hate that the idea of fat being equal to ugly and unfashionable is perpetuated. If the damage has been done, the intent becomes irrelevant.

This was the case for Twitter user @_cinnamonro11_, Clarke Betz, who sparked debate with one of her tweets following a viral Tik Tok trend showcasing the street style of different countries.

Betz tweeted a parodied version of the trend which instead mocked “American street fashion”. It depicted various Americans with – in her opinion – questionable fashion sense. Shown above, the tweet may at first glance read as perfectly innocent and even quite humorous as Betz intended, but with further thought, it stands as a perfect example of internalised fatphobia and the unconscious bias individuals have against fat people.

With one look at Betz’ social media profiles, it is clear to see the support she shows for causes such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, feminism and LGBTQ+ rights. She evidently understands racism, sexism and homophobia and most likely the harm they can inflict within society, yet refused to acknowledge her own internalised fatphobia when called out by another Twitter user, or how her tweet may be damaging. Like I said before, even the best of us.

If you’re confused as to why the tweet came under fire, think of it this way. If the outfits shown in one of the photos were instead on thin bodies (example with supermodel Kendall Jenner below), they would have undoubtedly been seen as fashionable and trendsetting, rather than embarrassing and ugly. It wasn’t the clothes @_cinnamonro11_ found ridicule-worthy enough to tweet, it was the fat bodies they were on (yes, even if she wasn’t consciously aware of that fact).

We see this similarly when fat women proudly post stunning bikini pics and receive hate for showing flesh or - god forbid - daring to be confident enough to show off their own body. Skinny women very rarely receive the same reaction, and no matter the health of the individual (as fatphobia has instilled within us the notion that skinny is automatically healthy), are praised for their perfection and branded as ‘body inspo’/’goals’.

We see it when skinny women on Instagram pose with a comically huge pizza or cheeseburger and no-one bats an eye, yet when a fat woman does the same, the once silent users are now deafeningly loud with ignorant ‘constructive criticism’ and ‘concern for her health’.

‘Skinny’, just like white skin and heterosexuality, is seen as the standard. It’s seen as the default, and anyone that dares to stray from that is chastised for simply existing in the world. If you are thin, you most likely will not notice the privilege you hold because the world is designed with you in mind. You fit nicely into seats on aeroplanes and rollercoasters, you easily find your size in clothing and you are surrounded by people who look like you, to name a few.

When we only see fat bodies displayed as ugly, unfashionable, unhealthy, etc. and see thin bodies plastered on magazine covers and portrayed as the golden standard, it’s no surprise we end up internalising these ideas. It may not be our fault we hold these biases, but it is up to us to tear them down.

The only way we can hope to force this subconscious hate from our minds is to surround ourselves with a different narrative. It’s time to idolise fat bodies without punishing them, without judging the amount of flesh they show or dictating what they can and cannot wear. We need to rethink how we use the word ‘fat’ itself, how we automatically use it as an insult or as a negative thought about ourselves – “I feel fat”, “these jeans make me look fat”.

A good first step is to open Instagram. Below are some incredible fat content creators/celebrities I suggest following that are sure to brighten your feed. It’s a small step towards eradicating fatphobia and won’t magically fix years of scars left by society, but it can be your first of many in a journey to a more inclusive world.















Article by Kirsty Griffiths